As many fast-growing Internet companies outsource customer service rather than add a call center, job placement Web site Monster.com, Maynard, MA, an Internet pioneer, built an inhouse call center that has honed service levels as the 5-year-old company's revenues have swelled to $120 million.
Through an intensive emphasis on its inhouse service, the company brought its abandoned call rate down from between 6 percent and 10 percent in 1997 to 1.5 to 2 percent in 1999. It is now about to embark on a more formalized e-mail management system to more quickly route and respond to the mushrooming number of e-mails it receives.
“We wanted to own the customer experience,” said Andy Hatch, Monster.com, director of telemarketing. “Looking for a job isn't easy — it's drudgery. Monster.com is about trying to make it fun.”
Owning their own call center also enabled the company to see the change in types of calls as the company became better recognized. Monster.com's job service is free to job seekers but charges employers to post listings. Telesales agents taking orders from employers for job postings over the phone found a difference in the nature of their phone conversations as the company matured.
“Before [telesales agents] were suggestive sellers, now they are prequalifiers. Before, their challenge was not selling a product, it was selling the idea of Internet recruitment. They had to explain to people what the Internet was,” said Hatch. “In 1999 we have skills-based representatives who are prequalifiers, they don't need to sell the concept anymore. When you set up a system, you have to build it to change because I guarantee that it will.”
The process of making a more concerted effort to improve the Monster.com call center began as the company began experiencing rapid growth. In 1997, the call center had approximately eight telesales representatives and three inbound sales reps, and it had grown 150 percent from the previous year.
With 50 calls per agent, per day and an abandoned rate of between 6 percent and 10 percent, the company decided to set rigorous service-level goals, including an average speed-of-answer of 15 seconds or less and first-call resolution of 85 percent.
In 1997, the call center had been using a Nortel switch and a Cinphony ACD, which had a basic, top-down, most-idle structure. They had minimal reporting, such as abandoned rate, average talk time and time in queue.
They also had a flat phone tree that had two options: Press one for sales or press two for customer service. People on the customer service side were handling a multitude of tasks, including tech support, customer service, public relations, e-mail and fax. And phone reps were friendly and customer-centric.
The solution involved implementing a Lucent Definity switch, and basic call management software such as BCMSVu. The company also moved from having representatives with broad-based responsibilities to dividing up reps based on skills. An agent assessment system was established that measured agent skills using both objective and subjective measures. In addition, a portion of the inbound service staff's compensation is now tied to the call center's metrics, and half of Hatch's salary is tied to the abandoned call rate.
The company's abandoned call rate has shrunk to between 1.5 percent and 2 percent, and now its agents each take 75 to 100 calls per day, compared with 50. The company has maintained the tools of its original call center that worked well for its needs, such as a flat phone tree and an emphasis on friendly customer-centric representatives. The center has swelled to include 104 telesales reps and 35 inbound customer service representatives.
The company, which began in 1994 as the 452nd site on the Internet, is now the 89th most visited site, with more than 2 million resumes and 290,000 opportunities. As e-mail inquiries have grown to 20,000 per month, the company is moving its attention to e-mail management. Currently, e-mail routing is done manually by an employee who sits at a PC and monitors and forwards incoming e-mails to available agents; but Monster.com is in the process of selecting an automated e-mail management system and has narrowed the field to three. The automated system that will be selected is expected to include auto-reply to easily answer inquiries such as lost passwords, in addition to automatic routing. The three e-mail management system finalists are eGain Communications Corp., Sunnyvale, CA; Mustang.com Inc., Bakersfield, CA; and General Interactive Inc., Cambridge, MA.
Live chats and call-back buttons are also planned for next year, Hatch said.